What to Expect at College: The U.S. Grading System

Better grades always have a positive impact on the students.

The United States educational system does not use the traditional percentage point system followed in many other countries. The US grading system utilizes a letter-grade system and grade point averages are used in America for determining academic performance. The letter-grading systems are usually on a four-point grading scale with undergraduates requiring at least a C average and graduates requiring not less than a B. When in higher education, this scale can then be changed again and used to evaluate one’s overall grade even differently.

1 History

The grading system in the United States might seem like it has been in existence forever, but it was only in the early 1900s when the letter system was tested by different schools and colleges. Between 1911 and 1960, schools and colleges experimented with using letters to grade students. During the 1930s, most schools and colleges switched over to letter grades from the percentage system. Over time, letter grades have become an integral part of the student-performance evaluation system in US universities and colleges.

2 Basics

Most of the colleges and universities in America use the letters A, B, C, D and F. Letter A stands for exceptional or an outstanding performance of the students, and its percentage conversion is often 90 percent and above. A letter B grade means good performance, and its percentage equivalent is from 80 percent to 89.9 percent. Letter C stands for average performance and a D for poor performance. An F is a failing grade and means you will not move past this course. Some schools add plus and minus signs to reflect grading subtleties, and these are often used in American universities to factor your average gpa at the end of each semester.

3 Record Translations

Many colleges and universities outside of the U.S., like in the United Kingdom, are familiar with the letter-grading system, and some of them have also implemented it in their grading policies. Schools that do not use letter grades use academic transcripts to judge a student's overall performance. In converting a student's grades into the letter-based grading system, foreign colleges take the student's percentage grade, judge the student's performance in comparison to other students and allot the student a translated grade. Some top universities skip the comparisons and allot a letter grade directly equivalent to the percentage points a student has earned.

4 Passing Standards

In United States colleges' grade-point-average system, an A is worth four points, a B is worth three points, a C is two points, a D is one point and F is zero. Undergraduates and graduate students need to have a minimum of a 2.0 GPA and a 3.0 GPA, respectively. However, some schools establish a 2.75 GPA as a pass standard for graduate programs. For doctoral or research degrees, most colleges give more importance to the final thesis of the student than to letter grades or GPA. But that doesn't mean that a student with low grades can qualify for the doctoral degree solely on the basis of a final dissertation.

5 Other Information

When getting ready to study abroad, it is important to understand the differences between how your community evaluates grades as compared to the american grading system. International students often perform very well when they travel to the United States, so don’t spend too much time worrying about whether you will get a passing grade or not. Just be sure you understand the point scale, understand numerical grades and feel comfortable with your ability to earn good grades at higher education institutions before you arrive.

Marcus Paine started writing in 2002 and has worked with some popular publishing houses in Gloucestershire like Edward Elgar Publishing and Nelson Thornes. His work, "Exploring Cheltenham" was featured in Elgar Publishing's weekly newsletters. Paine earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Arts in mass communication from the University of Gloucestershire and London Metropolitan University, respectively.